Grunke: manufacturing drives innovation

James Grunke, CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership

James Grunke/Missoula Economic Partnership

When I started writing this monthly column several years ago, it was intended to be used as an educational tool to explain how we went about developing and implementing our economic development strategies, and importantly, to showcase the successes we have had with these strategies. One of these strategies, growing and diversifying the area manufacturing base, has been, and remains, one our primary objectives, and an area that has shown success.

However, economic development is a continuous process, and one of the ways that the Missoula Economic Partnership continues to refine strategies is to learn what is occurring in other communities and what best practices can be adopted to help continue success.

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Virginia with University of Montana President Royce Engstrom to visit a Rolls-Royce jet engine manufacturing site and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing. These state-of-the-art facilities embrace manufacturing as jobs for the future and provided keen insights on how the public sector, education and the private sector are working together to build a bright future in southern Virginia.

The United States remains the No. 1 manufacturer in the world, particularly in advanced manufacturing sectors like aerospace and pharmaceuticals – both of which are growth areas for Missoula-based companies. Despite its declining share of overall employment, manufacturing remains a key driver of economic growth. Manufacturing builds social capital and wealth, supporting a broad-based middle class and vibrant, healthy communities.

The importance of manufacturing extends far beyond the employees, companies and investors directly involved in the industry. It affects everyone. Manufacturing provides the necessary foundation for an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable society. The American standard of living depends on the continued success of our manufacturing sector.

In addition, manufacturing drives technological innovations — industry accounts for over two-thirds of all commercial research and development, which is key to technological innovation and the creation of new, greener products and manufacturing processes.

Many of the things we learned in Virginia can be duplicated here in Missoula and Montana.

One of the takeaways that Engstrom and I took away was that education must align with the needs of industry, and play a vital role in leading and supporting research that advances industrial development. The strong partnership between apprentice programs, two-year education and traditional higher education is why Virginia was selected by Rolls-Royce for a $500 million investment into the state. We have the available tools and foundation here in Missoula to mirror their success.

Manufacturing is and will remain a critical component of our area economy. From dental instrument makers to award-winning breweries, aircraft parts to nutritional supplement producers, Missoula’s manufacturing sector is diverse, stable — and primed with opportunity.

Companies such as Diversified Plastics, CM Manufacturing, Ironwood Manufacturing, as well as the recent additions of Harris Manufacturing, ALCOM and LGT Advanced Technologies, continue to thrive and grow in Missoula. We will continue to look for best practices to put in place to grow a vibrant and healthy community.

James Grunke is the president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership.